What is the principle of justice

Summary of A theory of justice

Justice Utopias in the 20th Century

As John Rawls' main work A theory of justice In 1971, too, many in the western world saw the utopia of communism as a realistic socio-political alternative. Sections of the 1968 movement saw themselves as a bridgehead for the states of actually existing socialism. In the 1970s, the western democracies defended themselves against left-wing radicals with constitutionally questionable means, in Germany for example with the radical decree. At the same time, in 1968, when communist forces had to answer for the suppression of the Prague Spring, the debate about the so-called third way, about a socialism with a market economy sign, began. The possibility of socialism with a human face dominated the discussion, but without a large following. With his, John Rawls plunged into the vacuum of the political debate about constitutional values ​​and private property Theory of justice. Indeed, Rawls ’work means to a certain extent a rehabilitation of liberalism, because it recognizes the ability of the individual to determine the principles of social morality and law himself, instead of leaving this to some kind of society. For Rawls, the rights of the individual take precedence over the common good. The left was no less suspicious of this than Rawls ’reminiscent of Kant's call that citizens should treat one another" as goals, not as means to an end ". The American philosopher again provided the liberal bourgeoisie with powerful arguments against state intervention as well as against handing over the responsibility of the individual to society.


The death of his two brothers, who died of diseases from which John Rawls himself was spared, was undoubtedly a key experience for him. He realized early on that many privileges are not based on merit, but on chance. They oblige those affected to share their happiness. A theory of justice is Rawls ’undisputed main work; his other writings either lead to him or supplement it. Of great importance for his theory of justice was Rawls ’preoccupation with life plan theories, especially the Aristotelian. Rawls adapted the reflections of the ancient philosopher to the conditions of modern individual life plans and realized his very personal life plan: the formulation of a theory of justice. He gained the motivation for this project among others. from Christian teaching. This is based on the fraternal equality of human beings and concludes that all human beings should participate with equal strength in the perfection of the divine plan of creation. In numerous articles from the beginning of the 1950s he published test arrangements for forms of coexistence on the basis of a social contract. He also touched on the connection between justice and fairness as well as questions of civil disobedience. These essays became essential parts of those completed in the late 1960s Theory of justice. Rawls was not the only one at that time who was concerned with the setting of moral norms and their justification. A similar attempt was made in 1955 by the Hungarian-American economist John C. Harsanyi undertaken. In contrast to Rawls, however, Harsanyi voted for utilitarianism. Gordon Tullock and James Buchanan In 1961, similar to Rawls later, constructed an artificial state of ignorance in order to develop a model of rational individual decisions.

Impact history

When John Rawls launched his Theory of justice published, the media already spoke of an event of the century. Even then, Rawls was considered one of the most important philosophers in America and the world. At least 5000 scientific studies have now appeared that deal with his theory of justice. It has been translated into 23 languages ​​and has been sold 200,000 times in the United States alone. Although the rhetoric of Rawls’s theory of justice was very academic, its political impact was not long in coming. By the end of the 1970s at the latest, Rawls ’first opponents spoke up, above all those who belonged to the right-wing conservative student group of the philosopher Leo Strauss counting Allen Bloom. He blamed John Rawls for all alleged undesirable developments that had come over society in the wake of the 1968 movement.

In Germany, too, Rawls was attacked by conservative business liberals. He was called a "philosopher of social envy". In addition, he was not well received by the communitarians Michael Waltz and Michael Sandel. In contrast to Rawls, the communitarists do not consider the individual to be authorized to set standards for life in the community. They demand that the reverse should be followed, namely that the community must set the standards for the individual. Walzer and Sandel assume that individual rights of freedom have a corrosive effect on the community and produce a society of isolated egoists. After the publication of his theory, Rawls spent 30 years defending it against criticism, incorporating objections and extending the scope of his writing to international law and justice with global claims.